Monday, 25 February 2013

Australian interpretation of Indian barfi/burfee: Chai and Coconut flavour

Finally, a sweet recipe! Please pardon my predominant savoury tooth.

I have some very fond memories of the four weeks I spent in Punjab, India this time last year. We attended some friends' weddings and I ate everything. I mean everything. I thought I knew what Indian food was - boy was I wrong!

I developed a particular appreciation for masala chai and coconut barfi while over there. Unfortunately neither of these things did much for my waistline, as sugary sweetness is a very important feature of the flavour. I put on about a kilo for every week I was there (worth it!).

Once back in Australia, I visited my local Indian grocer and started asking questions about how I could emulate the flavours I'd fallen in love with. He sent me off with a few ingredients - the most prized of which has been this amazing chai powder:

All you do is make a normal cup of tea with your average teabag, add milk, half a teaspoon of T-Plus, and a teaspoon of sugar or sweetener of your choice.

As far as I can tell, "masala" means mixed, and this powder is a mixture of aniseed, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and clove. Don't let the aniseed part put you off - my husband is a liquorice nazi and still adores a nice cup of chai.

The closest Western thing I can compare barfi to is a no-bake slice. I can tell you, if you like sweet chai and coconut, you will like this slice.

I make no claims as to its authenticity! I'm sure it's not even close to the traditional recipe or ingredients. This is just me playing with the flavours I loved so much.

You will need:

  • 3 tblsp ghee
  • 3 tblsp Copha
  • 1/4 cup Natvia (or sweetener of your choice)
  • 1 1/2 cups of dessicated coconut
  • 1/2 cup thickened cream
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of T-Plus Masala chai powder (ask your local Indian grocer)
  • Optional: 40g of shelled, unsalted pistachios, blitzed up in a food processor.

Masala Funtimes:

Using your favourite non-stick saucepan, melt the Copha, ghee, and Natvia over a medium heat. Both fats are quite heat stable, so they will take a bit to go to liquid.

Add the coconut and make sure it's all evenly mixed through. Add the T-Plus powder, and it should look a little like mushed-up Weet Bix:

Take it off the heat at this point and mix the cream through. You won't need the hotplate again.

Pistachio option: give your pistachios a good run in the food processor. No need to make the meal too fine. I left a few chunks for interest. It looked like this:

Go ahead and mix the pistachios through. It'll add a bit of a green tinge to the mix.

Line a slice tin with baking paper, dump the mixture in, and press it out with the back of a spoon. Go for a minimum depth of 1cm.

It's ready to cut up into little squares after 20 minutes in the freezer. You can eat it now, or leave it overnight to settle in the fridge. The finished texture should be similar to a soft Anzac biscuit. If it's overly fatty or solid, you've put too much copha or ghee in.

Carb Count:

The entire batch works out at about 19g of carbohydrate. I chopped mine up into 16 pieces, meaning that each piece worked out at slightly more than 1 carb each. Great news for people like me who really don't count anything else.

Unfortunately, if you're counting calories as well, this dessert isn't such good news, with the entire batch worth 2,110 calories, and each piece (if cut into 16) coming in around 132 calories.

Makes a lovely morning tea with a cup of whatever hot drink you like.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Creamy Pesto Veg Stuffed Capsicums

Please excuse the low lighting in my kitchen at night!

This is going to sound awfully first-world of me, but I walked into the supermarket after finishing up my tutoring work for the evening, looked at the meat section, and decided there was absolutely nothing to eat.

A quick browse of the "fresh" produce sorted me right out. I knew I wanted to sink my teeth into the innocent flesh of an unsuspecting vegetable.

Well no. I really just wanted beer, crackers, and dip for dinner, but I figured I better do the right thing by my body. Plus a bottle of cheap bubbly from Liquorland on the way back to the car. Real healthy.

You will need:

  • 2-4 red or yellow capsicums (1 capsicum per person)
  • 200g of mushrooms, chopped
  • 2x medium zucchinis, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 3 tablespoons cream cheese
  • Shredded parmesan cheese to garnish.

Of course, there's absolutely no reason these need to be vegetarian unless that's your preference. Add chicken or bacon (or both) at will. Even tuna or smoked salmon might go okay. I'm not sure, as I 'm not a big fish-eater.

Stuff Dem Peppers:


Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Chop up all the veggies and the garlic. Satuee them in your favourite saucepan on the stove top, in a little bit of olive oil.

Add the pesto and make sure it's nicely mixed through. Let the veggies cook a little more and add the cream cheese.

While the cheese melts, ready an oven tray/pan/dish and prepare the capsicums. Cut carefully in a circle about an inch from the stem to make a lid. Chop the seed-bulb off the bottom of the "lid" and clean out the body of the capsicum to get rid of any stray seeds.

When the veggies are nearly done, turn off the hotplate, make sure the cheese and pesto are evenly mixed through, and spoon the mixture into the capsicums. Of course, if you added meat, make sure the meat's pretty much done first.

Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top of the mixture and replace the little lid on the capsicum.

I had a little left over, so I halved a capsicum longways and stuffed that too.

Give the outside of your capsicums a light spray with cooking oil and pop them in the oven for 30 mins.

They should come out loose-skinned with a few golden brown spots.

Carb Count:

Not the lowest of the low, at about 22g of carbohydrate per whole, stuffed capsicum. I've also decided to start keeping track of calories as well, so for those interested, this is 302 calories per serve.

Of course this varies a tad with the size and quality of your veggies, and if you're into the whole good carbs vs bad carbs thing, this isn't exactly a slice of white bread or a Freddo Frog. It's actual food with ingredients that were alive and growing once.

Would be great served with a few greens and cherry tomatoes. Which I chose not to buy, because I watched a lady in the supermarket toss aside the tongs provided and rifle through the loose salad greens with her bare hands, touching every last leaf. All the packaged stuff was sold out at 8.30pm.

This dish didn't really pass the husband-test in terms of meat content, but it may have been a different story if I'd put in bacon.

Eat on up!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Pork Crackle Crumbing Mix: Chicken strips for the hungover person.

Tequila is a harsh mistress. I'm hungover and I'm craving grease.

In my freezer, I've got a buttload of chicken fillets, and a bag of leftover pork crackle crumbing mix.

Pork crackles tend to get a bit of a bad rap. People seem to think it's like just eating lumps of fat out of a bag. However, from what I understand, the reason they're crispy is that the cooking process melts all the fat out of them. The crunchy part you're eating is mostly the protein structure that's left behind.

When ground up, they make an excellent crumbing mix. Just don't sniff the open packet. They do smell quite rank.

You'll need:

  • 2x small packets of plain pork crackles. The kind you get from the vending machine in the pub.
  • 100g of almond meal
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder
  • 1 tsp of paprika/any other herbs or spices you want to add. Basil or oregano might be nice.
  • Whatever meat you'd like to crumb. Today I'm going with chicken thigh fillet cut into strips.

How to food:

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

You might be able to fudge it with a blender, but you're probably going to need a food processor for this.

Process the two packets of crackles. They should go to nothing very quickly. Don't panic if there's a few little hard bits that just won't disintegrate. They probably won't stick to what you're crumbing anyway.

Tip the porkdust into a good-sized bowl, add the almond meal, garlic powder and paprika. give it a good mix around with a fork and it should look like this:

I didn't bother with coating my chicken strips in egg first before crumbing them. I've found in the past that it doesn't really help the crumb to stick. If anything, it helps the crumb to stick to itself and fall off in great big pieces. Just put a few bits of meat at a time into the bowl of crumb and make sure they're nicely coated.

If you've got crumb mix left over, just bag it up and put it in the freezer to use later. Yes it's already had raw meat touching it, but it's pretty likely that you're only going to use it on raw meat again anyway. It only needs <5 minutes to defrost at room temperature.

From here, you can either shallow fry what you've made, or if you're too wretchedly hungover to stand at the stove and deal with the possibility of oil spitting at you, pop your crumbed goodies on an oiled tray in the oven. Even give the top of your strips a light spray with oil. 40 minutes should be enough to well and truly cook chicken strips through.

I went the oven route. I'm so glad I did, as they turned out lovely and crispy and golden brown, like this:

Carb Count:

Your entire batch of crumb will have about 8g of carbohydrate. And that's a generous estimate.

You can serve this with whatever dipping sauce you want. Just keep in mind sugar's a pretty central ingredient in most commercially available sauces. You can get a low-joule sweet chilli sauce in the Asian section at some supermarkets, or make your own tomato sauce fairly easily.

I served mine with whole egg mayo with finely diced red onion and a dash of lemon juice mixed through.

These get the husband tick of approval. He said they're like chicken nuggets, only better.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Missing Fried Noodle Salad?

I love low carb food, but seriously, sometimes there's only so much meat and cheese I can handle.

That said, I have a long history of absolutely hating salad.

I remember being quite impressed the first time my Mum made the salad from the recipe on the back of the Chang's Fried Noodle packet. It was crunchy and oniony, sweet and tangy all at once. I loved it. Salad was now something I could enjoy, not a bitter, green nightmare where the tomatoes were the only decent bits.

Unfortunately, as far as salads go, Fried Noodle Salad's probably not the best in terms of sugar and carbohydrate content. The dressing alone requires 1/4 of a cup of castor sugar, and the carbs in the noodles only add to that.

The solution is simple, easy, detracts nothing from the overall taste, and I'm kicking myself for not having thought of this years ago. Leave the noodles out and replace the sugar in the dressing with sweetener. Doy. Sure it's not quite as crunchy as the original, but I really don't miss that, due to the natural crispness of the cabbage, onion, and nuts.

I'm also fairly certain this recipe is vegan, and could very easily be made gluten free too.

You'll need:

  • As much Chinese cabbage as you want. Perhaps about 1.5 cups per person.
  • Onion of your choice. Shallots are used in the original. I went with 1/2 a red onion because it's what I had on hand. No reason you couldn't use both, really.
  • Nuts or seeds. Pine nuts or slivered almonds work well. I used Lucky seed mix with pine nuts.
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tblsp soy sauce. Go the gluten free option here if you need to.
  • 2 tsps sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup peanut or olive oil. Peanut is a much milder flavour, so use that where possible.
  • Desired amount of sweetener of your choice. I used about a tablespoon of Natvia.

I don't want to dictate a set amount of sweetener here. Your sensitivity to sweetness will change depending on how long you've been going without sugar. It also depends on how concentrated your sweetener is.

Make it:

Chop the cabbage into shreds. Chop your onions and/or shallots as fine as you like. Dump it into a bowl big enough for mixing. Sprinkle nuts/seeds over until you're happy with the amount. Give it all a good toss around with some tongs and a good shake.

Find a jar to mix the dressing in, that way you can just screw the lid on and shake it to combine. If you don't use it all in one go, it will keep for ages in the fridge. I found some I'd pushed up the back and forgotten about for about three months and it was fine. It might separate a bit once refrigerated, so just give it a quick zap in the microwave and shake it up.

Serve as a side, or give yourself a generous helping for a nice, light lunch.

Carb count:

 The only carbs in the dressing really come from the soy sauce. So the whole batch of dressing is about 2g carbs, if you make it the way I did with Natvia.

The combined carb count of all the salad ingredients, for a serve like the one in the picture is around 12g. Add an extra 1g for the dressing.

If only I'd known earlier just how tasty salads could be!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Simple Low-Carb Jalapeno Poppers

Can't cook?

Don't worry. You don't need to be able to for these. All you need to do is chop, scoop, stuff, fold, stab, and place in the oven.

This variation on the bacon-wrapped jalapeno popper is husband-approved and definitely suitable boy-food.

I must admit, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with bacon. Sometimes, it's great. Other times, I can't even stand to look at it in the supermarket. The fact that it's raw has always freaked me out a little, and for that reason, I chose to substitute salami in its place for this recipe. I didn't want to have to balance cooking times for the peppers and the meat and blah blah blah.

As for the plain old cream cheese? Well, I'm sure it's fine, but the first time I tried this recipe, I happened to have a wheel of delicious South Cape herb and garlic cheese hanging around in my fridge. If you're on a budget, I imagine that the flavoured Mexican or Herb Danish cream cheeses you can buy in Aldi would go just as well in this recipe.

You'll need:

  • As many fresh jalapenos as you desire (you get two poppers per chilli)
  • Cream cheese to stuff - preferably a herb-infused one
  • Salami of your choosing - I used Spanish hot salami from the supermarket deli
  • Toothpicks
And, for the love of all that is sacred, gloves to wear while chopping the chillies. I learned the hard way that just because I can quite happily eat hot chillies, it doesn't mean they won't burn my skin.

How maek fuds?

1. Preheat your oven to 170-180°C. Also, put the frigging gloves on. Just do it.

2. Cut jalapenos longways, from stem to pointy-bit. You can leave the stem on if you want. I chose not to.

3. Scoop out the seeds from the insides and discard. I'm not too thorough about this bit, as I don't mind a bit of heat. Use your (gloved) fingers, use a spoon, whatever.

4. Cut chunks of the cream cheese with a knife and stuff them into the chilli-halves. Don't worry, even if you cut the stem off, the cheese won't melt and leak out the end.

5. Wrap your salami over the open, cheesy top of the pepper and skewer sideways with a toothpick to hold it in place. My salami slices were so big I decided to fold them in half.

6. Put your poppers on a tray and slide them into the oven for 15-20 minutes.

That's it. They're done. Eat them while they're warm!

Depending on the salami you used, these can be a little salty. Might be an idea to have your favourite low carb beer on hand!

If you wanted to make these vegetarian, you could probably substitute the salami for grated parmesan and/or almond meal. Just press it into the top of the cream cheese and bake away. In fact, that might be a little more similar to original battered/crumbed/fried poppers.

Carb count:

Because this recipe is so flexible in the size of the batch you can prepare, your best bet is to work it out based on the nutrition panel on the ingredients you used.

Eg: I made a batch of 10 poppers. That was about one cup of jalapeno flesh (5.5g carbs). I used just under half of the South Cape cheese (3g carbs), and probably <100g salami (2g carbs). My entire batch worked out at 10.5g, or just over 1 carb per popper.

Happy munching!